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Conservative Orthodoxy

 

I. If It Ain’t Broke

Modern Orthodox Jews take any of three approaches in evaluating the future role of women in religious ritual: status quo, deepening roles, halakhic egalitarianism (link – I prefer the first). I once heard a centrist intellectual describe the mainstream approach, the middle of the three, as muddling through. Mainstream Modern Orthodoxy plays it by ear, experimenting in small steps without committing to bigger, potentially disruptive changes. R. Chaim Navon’s Gesher Benos Ya’akov provides a conceptual framework for this approach, a method for muddling. Using his ample halakhic expertise and philosophical sophistication, R. Navon proposes a comprehensive attitude for evaluating the changing roles of women in Orthodox Judaism.

R. Navon’s primary contribution is his utilization of conservative political theory, particularly Edmund Burke, to describe halakhic attitudes (ch. 4, adapted from this article). We Orthodox Jews are optimists, despite our frequent cynical complaints. We believe that the past was good, the present is good and the future will also be good if we allow it. Torah society as we know it is morally, spiritually and socially wholesome even if imperfect. Burke wrote, “Society is a contract between the past, the present and those yet unborn.” We seek to preserve this source of goodness in our lives, so our children and grandchildren can continue in the Torah lifestyle.

Sudden religious change lacks humility, an overconfidence in your social theories which must be tested because they may cause unintended damage. Any change we institute to address either changing times or existing flaws must not disturb the good society we have inherited. We are caretakers of the Torah, a small group carrying out a divine mission in the face of overwhelming societal pressure. While we must adapt to survive, we may only do so cautiously lest we lose what we already have. Burke was skeptical of social engineering attempts because human intellect is limited and can never fully predict the consequences of a social change. He instead advocated gradualism, using a light touch to prevent damaging society. Deviating uncharacteristically from his Modern Hebrew, R. Navon summarizes his philosophy with the apt cliche: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” (p. 118). But sometimes it is broken and then we must proceed with caution, we must muddle through.

II. Torah and Change

How do we know when something needs fixing? When we see a practice that contradicts our values, we must analyze the source of those values. Our attitudes, R. Navon declares, must emerge from halakhah, the practical manifestation of eternal Torah values (p. 21). Everything else is vague and subject to wildly divergent interpretation. Only Jewish law faithfully conveys the specific attitudes of God and our holy sages. However, this approach is laden with difficulties, which R. Navon attempts to resolve. What about laws that seem to contradict clear Torah values? What about historical precedents of circumventing laws? The Torah permits polygamy, commands killing Amalekites and invalidates women’s testimony in court. Are these Torah values we must embrace?

R. Navon distinguishes between essential Torah commands and peripheral laws (p. 37). Which laws reflect time-bound considerations, such as the Rambam’s forbidding women leaving their homes more than twice a month? Which are intended to counter worse moral failures, such as the captive woman (yefas to’ar)? Perhaps the permission for polygamy falls under that latter category.

When we find laws that do not reflect eternal Torah values, we still cannot dismiss them. A Torah command is a command. However, in such situations we humbly submit to the law except when we face practical difficulties. In such cases, we explore our halakhic toolbox for ways to resolve our specific situation. For example, if a woman is the only witness to a crime, rather than setting the criminal free we utilize an alternative to testimony which does not fall under the Torah’s invalidation (see Rema, Shulchan Arukh, Choshen Mishpat 35:14). We do not reject the law but sidestep it, and only because we have an urgent need and do not believe our doing so contradicts a Torah value (p. 42).

The issue of identifying Torah values occupies a good deal of R. Navon’s attention (ch. 1). His approach seems to me somewhat subjective but on the whole a noble effort to respect Torah values while acknowledging the complex moral dilemmas we face in doing so. He cautiously embraces the modern moral instinct while maintaining a fierce allegiance to and reverence for Torah.

III. Women’s Roles

The key question in discussing women’s ritual roles in Judaism is whether the values apparent in the Torah are to be embraced or tolerated. If they are merely tolerated, then when face a practical problem for which we have permission to creatively circumvent. If they are embraced, then we will uphold the Torah values even in the face of practical difficulties.

R. Navon explores different approaches to why the Torah exempts women from time-bound commandments, settling on the idea that women are more dedicated than men to child-rearing and therefore often unable to fulfill those commandments (ch. 2). It does not matter whether (most) women’s physical and emotional devotion to raising children, even today when men contribute more than previously and women accomplish more than ever outside the home, is innate or social. Our Torah society is good and its values are good, including its placement of the mother as the family’s chief childrearing officer. Yes, some women are different but the Torah’s commands do not deal with exceptions (see Moreh Nevukhim 3:34).

Men and women have different roles in Torah society. R. Navon rejects the egalitarian impulse as contrary to Judaism, an improper motivation and goal. Therefore, argues R. Navon, we should not look for loopholes and work-arounds to bypass the relevant laws. We must accept this Torah value. He adds that it is not our job to determine specific people’s motivations. However, they are tasked with introspection, evaluating whether they are fighting for religious equality, an improper goal, or spiritual opportunity.

IV. Do No Harm

If we embrace the Torah’s division of gender roles, what do we do with the practical problems? We need to find solutions within our values rather than circumvent halakhah. But even then, not everything permissible is advisable. We already mentioned that R. Navon invokes the saying: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I think a more apt saying to describe his approach is: “First, do no harm.” We treasure our Torah society. While practical problems may require changes, we have to be extremely careful not to damage our social fabric, not to break the chain of cultural continuity we maintain in the face of an invasive secular atmosphere. We cannot risk destroying the Torah culture that we have inherited.

R. Navon believes in marginal experimentation. Try a little something here and there, see what sticks and reject whatever yields negative consequences. For example, R. Navon believes that the practice of traveling to Uman for Rosh Hashanah is technically permitted but contrary to Torah values. It doesn’t damage our communal fabric so the experimentation is happening with little rabbinic opposition (p. 122). While he is willing to be proven wrong, R. Navon believes the practice will eventually be rejected by the people because it violates the Torah value of spending holidays with family.

Changes, even though entirely permissible, must be made slowly so they can be properly evaluated through experimentation. R. Navon considers the development of women’s Torah study, which he discusses at great length repeatedly, to be a case in point. Sarah Schenirer’s curriculum was not nearly as advanced as that in Michlalah today. Over decades, the experiment of women’s Torah study proved successful, integrating well with the Torah values of the community. No one is wise enough to see all the consequences of a specific change. Therefore, even if halakhically permissible, we have to move slowly. Not only will this prevent damage to our society but it will also confirm that a particular practice is consistent with Torah values.

I don’t believe R. Navon says this but I suggest that this also explains why isolated historical precedents are irrelevant to normative practice. If Jewish history rejected a practice, that generally (but not necessarily) means that the practice was deemed contrary to Torah values, perhaps also to Torah law by most authorities. If we allow freedom for experimentation, we must also recognize failure and let isolated practices fade into history’s trash bin.

V. New Women’s Roles

The Sages forbade calling women to the Torah. However, R. Navon says, if we really saw the need, we could find a way to bypass the rule, a loophole or work-around to allow the practice without contradicting the Talmud. The real question is whether we have sufficient cause to do so. R. Navon argues that there is not (p. 202). Jewish tradition strongly demands separation of men and women in prayer. Calling women to the Torah (and increasing women’s roles in leading prayer) contradict that value. Even if not formally forbidden, we must heed the Torah value, and certainly we must not look for ways to bypass a technical prohibition. (R. Navon adds that the issue of human dignity, kevod ha-beriyos, in preventing women from being called to the Torah is irrelevant. The insult is ideological, not instinctive. The very denial of ritual egalitarianism, a value contrary to the Torah, cannot be invoked to override a Torah rule. – p. 198)

We are a creative people and can find ways to permit a number of improper activities. R. Navon gives the example of a Yisrael who ascends to dukhen, recite the Priestly Blessing, with the Kohanim but only lifts his hands without saying anything. This bypasses the prohibition against a Yisrael dukhening but is still contrary to Torah values, and thus something we should discourage if not disallow. We can also find a way to allow gentiles to play musical instrument for Kabbalas Shabbos. But this also contradicts a Torah value by ushering in the day of rest with a forbidden act.

Yes, the Talmud (Chagigah 16b) permits women to lean on a sacrifice they bring to the Temple because it satisfies them, gives them nachas ru’ach. However, that case did not contradict a Torah value. Women have no obligation to do it but also no barrier. If there are Torah values which argue against a practice, such as with calling women to the Torah, then we cannot invoke nachas ru’ach (p. 200).

R. Navon’s approach, which I repeat is not mine, resolves a problem facing the more progressive view. Just because we find precedent for leniency in a variety of areas does not mean that we must always permit what people desire. We must determine, first of all, whether halakhah allows a practice or could be redefined to allow it. Second, even if a lenient avenue exists, we must weigh whether the practice follows Torah values or contradicts them. And finally, we must proceed with caution, wary that our evaluation may be wrong and that any radical change could permanently damage the Torah community.

The halakhic obstacles facing women rabbis, R. Navon suggests (p. 123ff), can be resolved with some creativity but the path to this new institution must be gradual. First women must start as halakhic experts of a single subject, as is occurring with Yoatzot. They must find partial or pseudo-rabbinic roles, such as the spiritual leader of a school. We must see how women fit into these roles and how the community reacts. Only after gradual changes, or more precisely gradual successes, can we see whether the institution of women rabbis will be acceptable to the sensitive values of the Orthodox community. A sudden change risks not only damaging our societal institutions and splitting our community but allowing a practice contrary to Torah values full admission to the tradition. Let time judge, not social activists.

Those calling for radical change are pessimists, sometimes even anarchists. They deride our communal institutions and leadership, decry our society’s values and demand a new world order. This attitude is profoundly un-Orthodox. Torah leaders are supposed to be conservative, first doing no harm. They desire continuity, recognizing the need for our communal institutions in order to transmit our tradition to future generations. They see the beauty and success of the Orthodox community. R. Navon calls for change, but only gradual and value-positive so we can ensure continuity of Torah for generations to come.

 

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Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the founder, publisher and editor-in-chief of Torah Musings.

 
The opinions and facts here are presented solely by the author. Torah Musings assumes no responsibility for them. Please address religious questions to your rabbi.
 

83 Responses

  1. IH says:

    Modern Orthodox Jews take any of three approaches in evaluating the future role of women in religious ritual: status quo, deepening roles, halakhic egalitarianism (link – I prefer the first).

    Just to be clear, can you clarify what you mean by status quo given the many changes that have already become normative: e.g. WTGs, women saying Kaddish, women as synagogue Presidents, women hired as Synagogue/Community Scholars. Are these examples of status quo or deepening roles?

  2. IH says:

    R. Navon calls for change, but only gradual and value-positive so we can ensure continuity of Torah for generations to come.

    As I related a few days ago, In 1990, when I became a member of the JC, the then Rabbi came to my house and upon being asked, explained to my wife that he did not understand why the women in the congregation were not demanding more and there was a limit to what he could initiate without pressure from the congregants. But, it was all talk and little action.

    Had he or his successors (or peers) delivered in any substantive way, I doubt Darkhei Noam would have been created a dozen years later? And nor would it be growing by leaps and bounds At some point, people are not willing to wait beyond their projected lifetime when a bona-fide halachic alternative is available. And, it’s not just some of the women who want it; some of us men do too, as can be seen on any Shabbat at Darkhei Noam. Young and old, single and married, with kids and without.

    You could have written this about Zionism in the pre-Shoah 20th century, or about Chassidism before that, or Kabbalism before that, or for that matter Aristotelian Philosophy before that. Get over it – the call for patience on the role of women is long past to those who care about the issue. The genie is not going back in the bottle.

  3. ZPinchas says:

    “You could have written this about Zionism in the pre-Shoah 20th century, or about Chassidism before that, or Kabbalism before that, or for that matter Aristotelian Philosophy before that. Get over it – the call for patience on the role of women is long past to those who care about the issue. The genie is not going back in the bottle.”

    To group together contemporary feminism with Zionism, Hasidism, “Kabbalism” (not quite sure what that means, but I’ll assume you’re referring to the emergence of the Lurianic school of Kabbalah), and Aristotelian Philosophy is, conceptually, a bit sloppy.

    Also, as a parenthetical note, I’m not entirely certain as to why “pre-Shoah” Zionism is qualitatively different than “post-Shoah” Zionism.

  4. IH says:

    ZPinchas — you would need to be more specific for me to respond. On Kabbalism, see e.g. on Kabbalat Shabbat in Reif’s Judaism and Hebrew Prayer and just remembered I had read this relevant point (pp, 247-8):

    In order to understand how it was that the bitter controversies surrounding the Sabbatean movement in the seventeenth century did not prevent the spread of many of the liturgical usages of the kabbalists of the previous two centuries, it is necessary to draw a distinction between the philosophy and lifestyle of the pietists who promoted these usages and the more mundane existence of the everyday Jews, whether rabbis or simply worshippers, who adopted them in synagogues. While the texts and practices were attractive and won a place in the prayer-book, the more intense and systematic approach to kabbalah remained a matter for the few. Consequently, when the ‘profound upheaval’ brought about by Shabbethai Sevi and his followers rocked the Jewish mystical world and led to strong reactions against the mystical approach, those who tried to discredit all the kabbalistic additions to the prayer-book achieved only a very limited success.

  5. IH says:

    “just remembered I had read this relevant point” should not have appeared. That was sloppy.

    The point being that many of the changes to which Gil objects have currency because many in the amcha find these changes to be positive in the religious Orthodox life, not due to some over-arching ideology (e.g. “Radical Feminism”).

  6. ZPinchas says:

    My point was essentially that not all forms of change ought to be understood in the same terms. There should be a case by case evaluation of the relevant circumstances and ideological underpinnings.

  7. emma says:

    I dont disagree with a lot of this in principle, but I think you gloss over how utterly subjective and impossible to pin donw distinctions between those changes that do and do not impinge “torah valued.”

    For example, ” Jewish tradition strongly demands separation of men and women in prayer” is a “torah value” but the differentiation between men and women in non-prayer worship (smicha) is just a lack of obligation, no barrier?

    It may be that this hand-waving approach to which gradual changes to support/not, based essentially on instinct, will carry the day, historically, and for good reasons, but it feels sloppy to pretend that it is a real methodology.

  8. IH says:

    There should be a case by case evaluation of the relevant circumstances and ideological underpinnings.

    ZPinchas – Do you have a mareh makom for the analysis that was done by the Rav when he decided to create a CoEd Yeshiva Day School, Maimonides, where girls would be taught gemara?

  9. Anonymous says:

    IH – I don’t quite understand your question.

  10. ZPinchas says:

    * the above comment was mine

  11. IH says:

    ZPinchas — My point is that change happens in a non-linear and non-analytic manner. If you want a secular world analog, it’s http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technology_adoption_lifecycle.

    This is true for the role of women in Orthodoxy, just as it was true for Zionism, and for Chassidism and for Kabbalism and for Aristotelian Rationalist Theology/Philosophy.

    To be blunt: the Rav just did it, assuming that if he built it (CoEd learning of Limudei Kodesh with Talmud as the center) they would come. And, they still are…

    One can argue about how much to push how quickly, but without people pushing the boundaries, Orthodoxy would be a museum.

  12. ZPinchas says:

    IH – I understand that change occurs in a nonlinear fashion. My point, on the other hand, was that all of the above phenomena each constitute unique, self-standing developments in Jewish thought and practice that ought to be understood on their own terms, rather than simply being lumped together under the collective appellation of “change” or “development.” One must also take into consideration that the degree of reactionary development will generally correlate more or less directly to the degree of change.

    All of this, however, avoids the subject of whether said change is warranted or altogether correct.

  13. IH says:

    ZPinchas — The commonality, as per this discussion thread, is that an ideological idea was adopted by the masses – often for non-ideological reasons. For all the talk of “feminism” many of the people who buy into the changes we are discussing are doing it because it helps their religiosity, not out of ideology. In my view, that is the common thread with the examples I gave of Zionism, Chassidism, Kabbalism and Rationalism. Most Modern Orthodox Jews today “believe” in an admixture of all these things that would likely offend an ideologue of any one of them.

  14. ZPinchas says:

    IH – I’ll briefly use Zionism as an example: Indeed, the masses may adopt Zionism for a variety of reasons, some of which non-ideological. In fact, perhaps Zionism has a positive effect on an individual’s or a group’s religiosity. It does not follow that Zionism is a correct or legitimate ideology.

  15. Nachum says:

    Gil, this is all well and good- very good, in fact- but there’s one niggling detail: I can pretty much guarantee you that the vast, vast majority of those pushing for radical halakhic change are not conservatives, certainly not in the Burkean sense. I can run down a comment thread in Hirhurim and pretty much tell you who voted for who in the last six elections or so. (Obama’s a bit of an exception, what with Israel and all, but even there you can usually sadly nail it.)

    So you’re basically trying to talk across a huge divide. A lot of these matters are simply not of concern to political conservatives- they’re not in favor, say, of civil homosexual marriage, so why would “rights” of homosexuals ever come up on their religious radar screen? Etc. etc. On the other hand, to those to whom this matters, halakha will be something like the US Constitution- something nice (maybe- there’ve been some troubling articles lately) inasfar as it objectively- from the point of view of an ideology that is at most a couple of decades old but is convinced it’s much older- “feels good,” but largely ignorable beyond that. Indeed, as ZPinchas said, examing ideological underpinnings are important.

  16. Shlomo says:

    “women are more dedicated than me to child-rearing”

    A funny typo. Perhaps Freudian :)

  17. Shlomo says:

    the Rav just did it, assuming that if he built it (CoEd learning of Limudei Kodesh with Talmud as the center) they would come. And, they still are…

    1. If only they still were. How many women today are willing to put deep effort into learning Talmud? Didn’t Matan’s Talmud program almost close last year? The more the better, I would say, but let’s admit the difference between the trickle of women who want to learn Talmud and the thousands of men who are doing it at any time.
    2. Interesting that you bring up RYBS. When the Orthodox feminists wanted to learn gemara, they said “many rabbis prohibit it, but RYBS permits it, so we will rely on him.” When they wanted to dance with the scroll on Simchat Torah, the argument was “many rabbis prohibit it, and RYBS too, but R’ Henkin permits it, so we will rely on him.” Now, when it comes to partnership minyans, the argument is “many rabbis prohibit it, and RYBS and R’ Henkin too, but R’ Sperber permits it, so we will rely on him.” But perhaps R’ Sperber will reject the next innovation, and anyway, what does this sequence say about the honest of the arguments used to justify each change?

    One can argue about how much to push how quickly, but without people pushing the boundaries, Orthodoxy would be a museum.

    And without people to push back against that pushing, Torah observance wouldn’t exist any more. Not so long ago, it was said that “without people pushing the boundaries, JUDAISM would be a museum.” And the people pushing back, in that case, were the Orthodox.

    many of the people who buy into the changes we are discussing are doing it because it helps their religiosity, not out of ideology.

    Is it religiosity or narcissism? Worshiping God or worshiping themselves? Many people confuse the two.

  18. Yehuda says:

    I once knew a satmar rav who taught 10-year-olds in a (ultra-)modern orthodox coed school. He used to dance with the Israeli flag on Yom Ha’atzmaut – I once asked why he did this, and he answered quite simply: “Most of these kids aren’t frum, and some of them aren’t even shomer shabbos – I get paid to make them frum. If that means I have to dance with a flag, I’ll do it, but only if it’s mekarev them to torah. Once they learn some torah, they’ll see the flag is just [explitive deleted]”

    I have a feeling that R’ Soloveitchik’s ‘mareh makom’ for Maimonides was the same as that Rav’s.

  19. Amir says:

    The title of Rav Haim Navon book is not Gesher Benos Yaakov but Gesher Bnot Yaakov. Please use Hebrew and not whatever that is that you are using.

  20. moshe shoshan says:

    “Didn’t Matan’s Talmud program almost close last year?”
    For lack of funds not lack of interest.

  21. moshe shoshan says:

    “I can pretty much guarantee you that the vast, vast majority of those pushing for radical halakhic change are not conservatives, certainly not in the Burkean sense.”

    it is a big mistake to tie up political conservatism with halakhic conservataism. That being said, there is something to your point.
    R. Navon I think it simply trying to articulate a middleposition, virtually non existent in america, laegely inspired by the teachings of RAL and R. Amital z”l. I think that there is more sympathy for such a position both in the US and in Israel than you give vredit for.

  22. Shlomo says:

    For lack of funds not lack of interest.

    The two are not completely unrelated, of course.

  23. moshe shoshan says:

    there lack or rich donors and lack of interested students are not neccesarily connected

  24. J. says:

    Amir – Since when is the pronounciation used by our forefathers for centuries, and regarded by almost all poskim as far more appropriate for an Ashkenazi to use than the curious mishmash that is modern Israeli havara, illegitimate?

  25. Mike S. says:

    But if we are, as you say R. Navon claims, to determine Torah values by halacha, child-rearing should be mostly an activity of men, rather than woman. As the gemara in Kiddushin makes quite clear, the halachic responsibilities of parents toward children (which are mainly chinuch) are incumbent on fathers, not mothers. The only halachic obligation a woman has toward her child ends when the child is weaned, and even that is listed in the Mishnah Ketubot as an obligation toward her husband rather than the child.

  26. Nachum says:

    J.: When the author of the work uses another. When R’ Leiman speaks, he uses the havara of whatever author he’s quoting. It’s a matter of respect. The book, by the way, is written in Modern Hebrew.

    Shlomo: I remember that Orach Eliezer chose David Weiss HaLivni as their halakhic authority. When he proved to conservative for them on some issues, they dumped him.

    Moshe:

    “it is a big mistake to tie up political conservatism with halakhic conservataism. That being said, there is something to your point.”

    I’m not sure it’s such a mistake, but I’m not really tying them together. I am saying that they arise from a similar worldview, one which most Orthodox Jews and the vast majority of halakhic authorities don’t share.

  27. Hirhurim says:

    Nachum makes a good point that I was thinking about. In addition to Moshe Shoshan’s point, I think some people might be religious conservatives and political liberals. Our countercultural, minority religious society requires a more conservative approach than secular government.

  28. emma says:

    ” I remember that Orach Eliezer chose David Weiss HaLivni as their halakhic authority. When he proved to conservative for them on some issues, they dumped him.”

    I do not believe this is at all accurate. KOE was “his” shul. They could not dump him. Some (many) ppl left _the shul_ altogether when more liberal options became avilable. But they did not oust and replace the rabbi. He is an old man who retired to israel, and was replaced by someone whom I don’t think is actually significantly more liberal than he (and they asked him, as far as i know whether they could hire a woman).

  29. emma says:

    PS – I agree that many people are, or perhaps were, much more sympathetic to conservatism (of the burkean sort) in religion than politics. Actually, some of those ppl may have, in the last decade or so, changed their tune towards less conservatism in religion as something of a backlash towards perceived fundamentalism.

  30. emma says:

    Yehuda,
    “I have a feeling that R’ Soloveitchik’s ‘mareh makom’ for Maimonides was the same as that Rav’s.”

    I have a feeling you have no idea what you are talking about.

  31. emma says:

    (PS – I meant that substantively, not ad homined. AS in, I have a feeling you don’t have any source for what you have said, not significant familiarity with the rav or maimonides personally that would give your opinion any weight.)

  32. minyan lover says:

    IH, are you suggesting the gra was wrong about hasidim ? Did the gra sing about this anywhere. Did his wife sing along with him.

    Which innovative factor are you referring to with regards to the Ravs talmud in maimonides decision. The fact that krackow’s bais yakovs didn’t include gemarah ? Have there been any objective studies by non hasidim comparing the learned women in Austria,Bavaria,Germany,Lithuania,Czechoslavakia etc before this innovative Taqannah. Logically it wasn’t that difficult for sons and daughters of talmud scholars/know it alls to become gemara know it alls growing up. Its not that much of a hiddush to incorporate that as a mainstream concept in a school setting.

  33. Nachum says:

    emma: He was living in New Jersey, so I’m not sure how much it was “his” shul. Regardless, they did ask him, he did say no, and they ignored that.

    “Our countercultural, minority religious society requires a more conservative approach than secular government.”

    And you think one doesn’t affect the other? A generation of telling the young’uns that it’s OK to be gay is going to be reflected in Orthodoxy one way or another.

  34. Shlomo says:

    Just because Judaism is “conservative” about homosexuality doesn’t mean it’s “conservative” about (for instance) gun ownership. There’s little reason for correlation between the issues.

  35. Hirhurim says:

    Nachum: You are saying that you believe religious and political conservatism go hand in hand. All I’m saying is that they don’t have to. That logical step you are taking can be disputed.

  36. emma says:

    “He was living in New Jersey, so I’m not sure how much it was “his” shul.”
    I dunno, he was there every other week at least I think. But he founded it and I my sense was ppl defered to him or left.

    “Regardless, they did ask him, he did say no, and they ignored that.”
    Where do you get that?
    See, e.g., http://hirhurim.blogspot.com/2006/08/right-wing-conservative-synagogue_24.html (“he was asked about this by KOE prior to his departure for Israel and he approved their potential choice of a halachic woman as congregational leader”)
    http://www.yctorah.org/component/option,com_docman/task,doc_view/gid,1394/(“Even though Rabbi Weiss Halivni had already been in Israel for a few years and there had been intermittent transitional rabbinic leaders, the kehilah sought his advice. He answered that the search committee could include women who had reached the appropriate level of skill and scholarship”)
    (Interesting that the chronology differs, but the substance does not…)

  37. Lawrence Kaplan says:

    Yehudah: Have you read Seth Farber’s book on the Rav and Maimonides? If you do, you will see how ignorant and insulting your remark was.

  38. joel rich says:

    I read this piece just after the Rabba piece over at “News and Links”. I’ve posted enough times about how I understand the process but I was struck by the thought of R”YBS
    “Bride and bridegroom are young, physically strong and passionately in love with each other. Both have patiently waited for this rendezvous to take place. Just one more step and their love would have been fulfilled, a vision realized. Suddenly the bride and groom make a movement of recoil. He, gallantly, like a chivalrous knight, exhibits paradoxical heroism. He takes his own defeat. There is no glamor attached to his withdrawal. The latter is not a spectacular gesture, since there are no witnesses to admire and laud him. The heroic act did not take place in the presence of jubilating crowds; no bards will sing of these two modest, humble young people. It happened in the sheltered privacy of their home, in the stillness of the night. The young man, like Jacob of old, makes an about-face; he retreats at the moment when fulfilment seems assured.”

    How often are we willing to accept “defeat” which is really our greatest “victory”? I’m not saying I know this is a case where that should happen, but I really do think this is worth asking ourselves as individuals and as subgroups (all sides of the questions at hand)
    KT

  39. Hoffa Araujo says:

    “Amir on February 1, 2013 at 3:59 am

    The title of Rav Haim Navon book is not Gesher Benos Yaakov but Gesher Bnot Yaakov. Please use Hebrew and not whatever that is that you are using.”

    Gil used Lashon Hakodesh, not Hebrew, or whatever you call it. Rus, Rus, Rus, Rus, Rus….

  40. emma says:

    on the bnos/bnot, the book was written in modern hebrew, not lashon kodesh. R Gil’s use of “Bnos” grates the same way those who refer to the “maharitz chayoT” do.

  41. Hoffa Araujo says:

    “And without people to push back against that pushing, Torah observance wouldn’t exist any more. Not so long ago, it was said that “without people pushing the boundaries, JUDAISM would be a museum.” And the people pushing back, in that case, were the Orthodox.”

    That is valid point. While I see plently of pushback from the Right-wing, where is any resistance or pushback from the Left? So far, I have yet to see on OO/LWMO say “genugt!” When will that point be reached, because right now, with the changes coming from that sector, the trajectory right now is “forward march!”

  42. Hoffa Araujo says:

    “on the bnos/bnot, the book was written in modern hebrew, not lashon kodesh. R Gil’s use of “Bnos” grates the same way those who refer to the “maharitz chayoT” do.”

    It only grates on those open to be grated on :)

    Anyway, Bnos Yaakov is not a term invented by Modern Hebrew. Frankly, I find it funny how so many on here make a big deal using an ancient Ashkenazi pronounciation. I don’t see anybody here ever protest “nachat ruach” or something like that. Seems like a one-way street of complaints to me.

  43. Hirhurim says:

    Hoffa: While I see plently of pushback from the Right-wing, where is any resistance or pushback from the Left?

    R. Aryeh Frimer and R. Barry Freundel have pushed back on this blog!

  44. Hirhurim says:

    Re transliteration: I try to maintain a consistent policy, regardless of the author’s intent. Otherwise I would have to transliterate in Chassidic and other difficult ways that would only confuse readers. You don’t see me quoting the Minchus Eloozer or the Piskei Tshivus.

    I also am not forced to learn the background of the author of every book I quote. That quickly becomes tedious.

  45. emma says:

    “It only grates on those open to be grated on :)”

    fair enough. i noticed it originally and decided not to comment, but once it came up…

    “I try to maintain a consistent policy, regardless of the author’s intent. ”
    This is, of course, reasonable. But given that the whole book was written in modern hebrew, it makes me wonder whether you read non-religious hebrew literature in ashkenazis to… just a weird mental image. I am actually sad about the possible demise of ashkenazis among the moderns, but at this point is is just not a viable accent for modern hebrew, outside the ritual context.

  46. Hirhurim says:

    I read this book in my head in Modern Hebrew. But I write for this blog in Ashkenazis.

  47. Hoffa Araujo says:

    “You don’t see me quoting the Minchus Eloozer or the Piskei Tshivus.”

    Actually, it is usually spelled “Minchas Eluzar”. I don’t where you got the double letter “o”‘s from? :)

  48. ruvie says:

    reb joel – read the article in new links – what happens when jewish law hampers the disable and then the post above:
    http://forward.com/articles/170300/what-happens-when-jewish-law-hampers-the-disabled/

    substitute women for the disable and you have more or less the same result and arguments:
    As a rabbi from an agudah shul said-
    “But in those cases where a request simply isn’t possible, it is up to the rabbi to say no, he said. “We are observant on a consistent basis,” Suchatowitz said. “We are compassionate but we’re not going to change the Halacha for them.”

    sub practice for halacha. but the compassion is not there even in the mo circles at times.

  49. Y says:

    Nachum has an excellent point. The fact is, a sizable proportion of Orthodox Jews are liberal or progressive (one poll even indicated that more Orthodox Jews voted for Obama than Romney.) We can’t hermetically seal the religious and political spheres. So it may be useful to have discussions within the Orthodox community about political philosophy and its relation to Orthodoxy.

    Liberals might resist admitting this when it comes to secular politics, but the fact is Burke was right — the French revolution, the Russian revolution, and pretty much every social revolution ended with massive bloodshed and very little good to show for it. Even modern non-violent progressives need to balance their approach with some respect for tradition.

    For example, on liberal websites such as HuffPost, nowadays you’d never see anyone defending the old-fashioned idea that people should abstain from sex before marriage, because that’s associated with people progressives think are evil (Xian opponents of birth control and abortion). But clearly that’s a Torah value we should have no problem in believing in and teaching to our children, no matter how liberal we are. The same goes for marriage, which many far-left liberals see as an outmoded institution (leading to a huge rise in cohabitation and single parenthood, which promotes poverty and is not ideal for children.)

    So if there needs to be a balance between progressive rationalism and tradition, traditional Judaism — that is, Orthodoxy — is where that will come from. If we apply the progressive-rationalist spirit (really, a set of rather new ideas like gender egalitarianism) to Judaism, we end up with something not traditional at all, and it doesn’t provide the balance we need.

    Thus even if we apply a progressive perspective to politics, we need to recognize that a fundamentally conservative approach is what is appropriate when it comes to Judaism, both because that is the inherent nature of authentic Judaism as it has always been practiced, and because if we abandon tradition, we know from experience that progressive rationalism we go too far and end up with bad results.

    Just thought I’d share one way of thinking about this!

  50. Hirhurim says:

    Eluzar is the Yeshivish way of pronouncing it. Eloozer is the Chassidish way. (Distinguishing between “uh” as in wonder and “ooh” as in loser)

  51. joel rich says:

    R’ Ruvie,
    Yes, we’ve (hirhurim) had this discussion, if the compassion is lacking, shame on us; but at the same time, sometimes the answer is no. I recently had a discussion with someone about a relationship where the other party was thought to be making unfair and unattainable demands, my response was to try to keep saying no with a smile and repeated explanation – sometimes you have to say no but you have to try not to let it change your middot imho.

    KT

  52. Hoffa Araujo says:

    JR – exactly. The answer is not always “yes”, even if it makes us feel bad, shameful, or out of touch. Being a Torah-observant Jew many times requires us to say this. However, for some, that is very difficult to do.

  53. Joseph Kaplan says:

    I think Emma put her finger on the main issue with R. Navon’s analysis; namely, “but I think you gloss over how utterly subjective and impossible to pin down distinctions between those changes that do and do not impinge ‘torah values.’”

  54. ruvie says:

    reb joel – i don’t disagree that sometimes the answer is simply no. but i have seen too many times not only a lack of compassion but worse (in the mo community too) which ends up being nothing more than lip service at best. today, changes that usually take centuries happen in decades or a couple of years…that is a challenge in times of instant gratification and shu”t text messages.
    but also sometimes the answer is no for not good reasons or to slow the pace of change or attitudes that are outdated.

  55. ruvie says:

    Hoffa – “Being a Torah-observant Jew many times requires us to say this” do you assume that those that say yes are not torah observant? what is a torah observant jew other than someone that is shomer mitzvot. are do you practice torah true judaism while others do not?

  56. emma says:

    Often, though, in my experience, the rabbi saying “no” is not mounting a real defense of his position, such as “i have really examined the sources and there is no way to allow this” or “this goes against the Torah’s value of Y.”

    Instead it’s often “I know that this is technically permit-able but I don’t want to make waves.” Which seems rather less “gallant” than R. Soloveitchik’s hero…

  57. emma says:

    (I am speaking of shul rabbis, not the rabbis who have been publicly discussing this, as on this blog.)

  58. David S says:

    Rabbi Navon’s point is well taken in and of itself. Certainly, a conservative system like Judaism should avoid radical change when it is not warranted. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it makes sense to me.

    Unfortunately it is broke and here is why. Whether we like it or not women have ascended to the very height of authority in the world. There is absolutely no comparison of a world in which the sages live (or a world 40 or 50 years ago) and world in which women are heads of state, supreme court justices and the like. It is a radically new condition requiring a Halachik response. I would say that in many ways it is no less revolutionary than emancipation itself. Judaism cannot find itself ultimately aligned with those forces that would hold back the wave. It is bad for the community, and it is bad for Israel to be seen as retrograde in these matters.

  59. joel rich says:

    r’emma,
    but imho if it is a well thought out stance, it in fact would be even more heroic – I know it’s technically permittable but as the rabbi in all humility I don’t think it is the will of HKB”H for my community for the following reasons would be heroic indeed (again to be clear I am not addressing this particular case but the concept in general)
    KT

  60. emma says:

    “as the rabbi in all humility I don’t think it is the will of HKB”H for my community for the following reasons would be heroic indeed”

    I respect that, when it happens. Some people, though, give a not-so-subtle sense that the are protecting themselves, not their communities…

  61. MO says:

    Conservative Orthodoxy?

    I see that we’re reinventing the wheel.

    There is a reason that Conservative Jews called themselves “Conservative.” They were positioning themselves between Rationalist Reformers who sought to use reason to reform Judaism and Orthodox Jews who claimed that Halakha was timeless and never changed.

    Conservative Jews claimed that yes halavkah could change but it must be on the basis of a careful understanding of history, which naturally led to a conservative approach to changing halakha since history changes slowly. In this sense Conservative Jews saw themselves as disciples of people like Burke and his German students (like Savigny).

    So now an Israeli Rabbi has rediscovered Burke and the conservative tradition and is applying its principles to Judaism. Welcome to the nineteenth century!

    La plus ça change…

  62. S. says:

    J. >Since when is the pronounciation used by our forefathers for centuries, and regarded by almost all poskim as far more appropriate for an Ashkenazi to use than the curious mishmash that is modern Israeli havara, illegitimate?

    What you call “the pronunciation” is no such thing. American cholent havara Ashkenazis is not any historical Ashkenazic pronunciation either, but also a mishmash. We say resh as if it’s an American r. This is Ashkenazis? We are split between those who say a cholam /o/ and those who say /oy/. The former is not historical Ashkenazis, and the latter is the Polish cholam, but what about the German and Lithuanian cholem? We can go on and on, but suffice it to say Ashkenazis is also a mishmash, preserving and mixing various elements from various historical Ashkenazic pronunciations, with a layer of America on top of it. This is what the poskim favor?

  63. Anonymous says:

    r’ joel – ” I don’t think it is the will of HKB”H ” oh, to divine the divine – yes humility indeed.

  64. Yehuda says:

    Emma – You’re right, I don’t have any idea what I am talking about, which is why I wrote “I have a feeling.” I didn’t know the Rav Soloveitchik personally, so I made certain assumptions based purely on the fact that he was an orthodox rabbi. My point was this – The Satmarer believed zionism to be apikorsus, but he put that aside to be mechazek children in torah. In my opinion, and that of most poskim, mixed schools aren’t quite the halakhic optimum, (I’m not saying they’re completely assur) Again, I didn’t know Rav Soloveitchik personally, and honestly, there are wildly diverging accounts of his views and personality. However, based on the fact that the Rav was an orthodox rabbi, I assumed he was concerned for issues of modesty and thus I speculated that the Rav felt that mixed schools weren’t quite right but participated anyways in order to be mechazek the children. See my response below to Lawrence for more explanation.

    Lawrence-
    Firstly, I’d like to point out that the tone of your response may have been a bit harsh. My remark was not intended in the least to be insulting (and obviously I didn’t intend to be ignorant) – But I have a feeling you didn’t understand what I was saying- I admire that Satmarer, for putting the benefit of klal yisrael above his personal hashkafa. (even as I disagree with his hashkafa) The point being, there’s a time to stand on principle, and there’s a time to be flexible, and a true chacham knows the difference. You’re right, that I didn’t read that book, because I have no interest in reading it, because it’s irrelevant to me – I was responding to IH’s comment asking for a ‘mareh makom’ to the analysis with a mashal, the nimshal being that it’s sometimes appropriate to violate your principles to achieve a more important goal. I indicated that my answer was speculative, as I explained above to Emma. If my mashal was not apropos, then explain why – did the rav hold that coed chinuch was correct and appropriate under all circumstances? I’m really not understanding why you responded so harshly, and I don’t see what warranted that sort of response. I apologize if I offended you personally, although if I did, I would like to know what exactly I did so I know how not to repeat my mistake.

  65. Steve Brizel says:

    I see no reason why a person who learns and davens in Ashkenazis cannot write the same way in Emglish when describing a sefer. There is no reason ( unless one is being pedantic in a purely snobbish way) to write Qabalat Shabbat as opposed to Kabalas Shabbos.

  66. Steve Brizel says:

    R Navon’s thesis is easy to decipher-change that violates the differences in gender, especially where so stated by Chazal and the overwhelming Rov Rishonim and Poskim, should be rejected as a way of saying no to the cultural zeitgeist and its intellecual and cultural underpinings.

  67. Steve Brizel says:

    One can find echoes of R Navon’s approach in R Asher Weiss’s comments re the Razton HaTorah. When you cut away the references to Burke, determining what are Torah values when Torah Shebicsav speaks only in general terms, anyone who studies Gemara even on a superficial level can see that definining what the perameters of proper conduct, etc has always been an issue of Masrah HaKasuv LChachacmim.

  68. Lawrence Kaplan says:

    Ywhudah: I appreciate the tone of your response. As to the substance of your remarks: This is not the place to dicuss the Rav’s complex attitude to co-ed studies. And I understand that you intended to compliment the Satmar teacher. But to compare that Satmar’s attitude to the Israeli flag, pariculalry in light of your “expletive deleted,” to the Rav’s attitude to coed studies at Maimonides is, however inadvertantly, insulting to the Rav. Perhaps, however, I should have used the adjective “outrageous.”

  69. Anonymous says:

    I just saw Spielberg’s movie “LincolnZ, and despite my general defensiveness against pious,schmaltzy movies ended up being moved and impressed by the morality of these Christian abolitionists. They too knew the Bible permitted slavery, and they too heard arguments about the value of gradualism and yet they followed their conscience and common sense and passed the 13th amendment. I wondered watching these stern, princioled politicians what eould have been the outcome if charedi rabbis were in charge? Would it be much different with

  70. ej says:

    …Sorry, the comment was posted without my proofreading.The last comment should end with the question “Would MO Rabbis have acted much differently than charedim?”

  71. Melech says:

    “emma on February 1, 2013 at 10:08 am

    on the bnos/bnot, the book was written in modern hebrew, not lashon kodesh. R Gil’s use of “Bnos” grates the same way those who refer to the “maharitz chayoT” do.”

    The Dual Role of R. Zvi Hirsch Chajes (Dr. Bruria Hutner David, 1971 CE)

    http://docs.google.com/fileview?id=0Byx6sZjO1KzmNmQzNDA5ZDctMDIzYS00YjYyLWI1ZjctOGE1Nzk3ODA5NzU3&hl=en

  72. Hirhurim says:

    To be honest, it grates on my ears when someone calls R. Moshe Sofer the “Chatam Sofer”, which I am sure is not the way he would pronounce it. But so be it. Live and let live.

  73. mycroft says:

    “This is not the place to dicuss the Rav’s complex attitude to co-ed studies”

    At a minimum he didn’t feel it was a central issue to fight for.
    Maimonides had coed classes-there were typically 2 coed classes per grade-one could easily have made one class male and one class female. Until a few years ago the 2 heads of the school committee were Dr. Tanya Soloveitchik who was succeeded by her daughter Dr Atara Twersky. Most of the school committee were chosen by either Dr Tanya Soloveitchik or Dr Twersky-I believe there were 2 exceptions both picked by the Rav directly. One of the members of the school c0ommittee told me their function was to find out what the Rav wanted and then ratify it.

  74. mycroft says:

    “To be honest, it grates on my ears when someone calls R. Moshe Sofer the “Chatam Sofer”, which I am sure is not the way he would pronounce it. But so be it.”

    Similarly when scholars write a name not the way the person wrote it himself -obvious example most scholars refer to R Kapach as Kafih. Kapach printed his name in English as a transliteration of the Hebrew not a transliteration of the Arabic name-Kafih.

  75. S. says:

    >To be honest, it grates on my ears when someone calls R. Moshe Sofer the “Chatam Sofer”, which I am sure is not the way he would pronounce it. But so be it. Live and let live.

    Also “Chasam Sofer,” not how he would pronounce it. I agree, live and let live.

  76. Hirhurim says:

    Mycroft and S: Yes, that’s my point. How the author pronounces the book’s title is irrelevant.

  77. Melech says:

    “Similarly when scholars write a name not the way the person wrote it himself ”

    How Moses Sofer/ Moses Schreiber wrote it himself:

    https://dl.dropbox.com/u/15629089/chatam%20sofer.jpg

  78. mycroft says:

    “Hirhurim on February 3, 2013 at 10:36 am
    Mycroft and S: Yes, that’s my point. How the author pronounces the book’s title is irrelevant.”
    How an author spells his name should be irrelevant?

  79. Hoffa Araujo says:

    Yet, I find on the comments that those who pronounce using Modern Israeli pronounication are the ones who have a hairy fit about it. Why? Why don’t they agree “live and let live” instead of posting about it and appearing snobbish?

  80. Nachum says:

    Because very often people davka don’t use Israeli pronunciation for ideological reasons.

  81. charles hoffman says:

    1. The sages didn’t “forbid” calling women to the Torah. They just said it wasn’t the practice. And the reason they provided was a practical one – not to embareass the ignorant men of the community

    Approaching the problem that way makes a contemporary solution a lot less confrontational

  82. Melech says:

    “Nachum on February 4, 2013 at 11:18 am

    Because very often people davka don’t use Israeli pronunciation for ideological reasons.”

    Teshuvot ve-Hanhagot 1:548 here:

    http://www.hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=20025&st=&pgnum=370

 
 

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